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Jul-24-2011 17:12printcomments

Twenty-Eight Years Gone And Still With 'Sinhala Nittaewo'

How far this political power, nurtured on a crude ‘Nittaewo’ mindset will survive, is a gnawing question.

Cyril Mathew
Image from "Black July" in Sri Lanka. Photo:

(RATMALANA, Sr. Lanka Sunday Leader) - Writing about “Nittaewo” of Ceylon, Fredrick Lewis said, they were more human-like in appearance, short and powerful with large hands and long, hooked nails similar to the talons of an eagle. Hugh Nevill wrote, the Nittaewo lived in small groups of 15 to 20, were savage and they tore into the belly of the prey with their talon like claws. They took away children of the Veddahs and was thus wiped out by Veddahs, say both writers.

Twenty eight years ago this Sunday, most considerate and large hearted Sinhala people, had a harrowing week to begin with, providing shelter and security to the Tamil people who for decades lived in the South, but were pursued by the Sinhala Nittaewo. In marauding groups of 15 to 20, they tore into the belly of the Sri Lankan society, led by Industries Minister Cyril Mathew of President Jayawardena’s UNP government, as popularly claimed.

As architect of Sinhala Buddhist racism in post independent Sri Lanka, Cyril Mathew had by then gone on record saying, [quote] “Any person who reads this book with care will realise that there is a systematic growth of Tamil forces in this country, in opposition to the Sinhala Buddhist culture and the political and economic background of Sri Lanka. As matters now stand, it would be useless to merely say ‘let there be peace.” [unquote] From the book, Sinhalayage Adhisi Hathura (The Unseen Enemy of the Sinhalese) by Cyril Mathew.

Twenty eight years ago, two weeks before the pogrom on Tamil people, President Jayawardena told Ian Ward of the London Daily Telegraph on 11 July 1983, [quote] “I am not worried about the opinion of the Jaffna people now… Now we cannot think of them. Not about their lives or of their opinion about us… The more you put pressure in the North, the happier the Sinhala people will be here…really, if I starve the Tamils out, the Sinhala people will be happy…” [unquote]

Gamini Dissanayake, the Mahaweli Minister was happy speaking the same language. [quote] “Even today, Thondaman has spoken in parliament supporting Mr. Amirthalingam and the struggle of the people in the North for their rights. Our Buddhist priests and Sinhala youths have been enraged by this. We have calmed them with great difficulty. Who attacked you? Sinhalese. Who protected you? Sinhalese. It is we who can attack and protect you.” [unquote] September 5, 1983, addressing the executive committee of the Lanka Jathika Estate Workers’ Union at Siri Kotha.

That was the crude mindset of these Sinhala Nittaewo, who led the pogrom on Tamil people and left a trail of bleeding and putrefying destruction that helped the armed Tamil militancy to justify their claim for a separate Eelam State. They consciously ‘force bled’ the Sri Lankan society to create a Tamil Diaspora in Western countries and a large refugee presence in Tamil Nadu. For 26 years, a formidable segment within this fractured and humiliated Tamil society, expected the LTTE to establish a separate “Thamil Eelam State” to regain their dignity.

It should have been a “lesson learnt” for the Sinhala South, that brute force and arrogant politics, are no answers for political conflicts, when Sri Lanka was pushed into a long, protracted war. That it is the Tamil Diaspora which helped and funded the LTTE, in its armed insurgency, that sought to establish a separate “Thamil Eelam State,” with equally brutality. That it is this same Tamil Diaspora which keeps the war crimes and crimes against humanity as steeled demands against this Rajapaksa regime, the international community can not now trash.

Hillary Rodham Clinton thus became the first US Secretary of State to make an official call on a Tamil Nadu Chief Minister on July 20, and to discuss politics of its neighbour. At the Anna Centenary Library in Chennai, she made it very clear why the US pays so much interest in India.

Tamil man injured in Kandapola – The Advocacy Project, Washington, DC

She said, “We understand that much of the history of the 21st century will be written in Asia. And much of the future of Asia will be shaped by decisions not just by the Indian government, but by governments across India and by the 1.3 billion people who live in this country.” India, according to Madam Clinton, had increased its trade with the US by 20 percent over the past year. India therefore, is in every way an important geo-political ally for the US, in a new emerging Asia. A new Asia, the US would play cautious with China that funds all rogue States in the world.

Jayalalitha as the Tamil Nadu Chief Minister, within the political equation that has New Delhi and Colombo on either side, with US pressed to take a position, thus become important to the US in striking a compromise with the New Delhi administration. Madam Clinton therefore told the large and diverse audience at the Anna Centenary Library, “India’s diverse and democratic system can serve as a model for Sri Lanka.

In Chennai and in Tamil Nadu, you can see how much society can achieve when all citizens participate in political and economic life. Every citizen of Sri Lanka deserves the same.” The long and loud applause she received for that single statement on Sri Lanka, explains the sentiments on which Jayalalithaa would now have to work, having made her election rhetoric, an official resolution of the TN State Assembly.

Most unfortunately, all of them, the US, New Delhi and Jayalalithaa have to work with a Sri Lankan regime and a Sinhala majority polity, that do not give much credence to the polemic, “a society can achieve when all citizens participate in political and economic life.” They don’t seem to want to learn lessons from the past and from anywhere else, to seek a secure future. President Rajapaksa himself does not want to prove Prabhakaran right either, by being the “pragmatic Sinhala leader,” Prabhakaran said Mahinda Rajapaksa could be reckoned as, in his “Mahaveer Day” speech on November 27, 2005, just eight days after Rajapaksa was first sworn in as President.

This regime thus continues on “Jayawardene thinking” that is no different to “Mahinda thinking.” Not thinking of the Tamil people. Not thinking about their lives or of their opinion about the Rajapaksa regime. Putting more pressure in the North and making the Sinhala people happier. That’s what President Jayawardene said in 1983 he would start doing and that’s what President Rajapaksa is doing right now. Yet with a difference.

Very much different in war to all Presidents and all regimes from Jayawardene to Kumaratunge, this Rajapaksa regime put in place a brutal war plan that totally uprooted and dislocated people from their villages, beginning from around 2007 July and August, for 22 months. With heavy shelling, mortar and MBRL fire, people from all villages in the West coast in Mannar were collectively driven to the East coast in Mullivaikkal, in Mullaitivu, over this 22 month period. During this period, all the shells, mortars and bombs that rained over Mannar, Killinochchi and Mullaitivu districts, sanitised all that land and left over 280,000 people, old, young and infant, men and women, “caged” as Gordon Weiss says, behind barbed wire camps as “IDPs”. The war had been declared over on May 19, 2009, as a “humanitarian war” with “zero civilian casualty”.

This Sinhala society accepts it as a “liberating war” and the Rajapaksa regime wants it just that way. Therefore, two years after the war, when TNA national list MP, Sumanthiran tables in parliament, a comprehensive report on how the Tamil people are still ill treated, despite what the Rajapaksa regime tells the world on its supposed efforts in “social reconciliation”, the main Opposition parties, the UNP and the JVP do not want to debate and discuss it. They prefer not to even see it. Hence they are yet to make any reference to the Sumanthiran report, in public.

The mainstream media does not want to touch those people’s issues either. There was no front page coverage, no editorial on this human report that talked about the lives of thousands in the North – East, though a single army deserter in Kahawatte, who was killed for blood thirst, had many front page accounts, continuously for days. MP Sumanthiran’s situation report on the plight of the Tamil people in the North and East thus falls far short of the Kahawatte serial killer and goes unseen and unnoticed by the Sinhala South.

None of the issues he records where the security forces, the militarised administration and political complicity robs people of their ancestral land, displaces them of livelihood, continues to keep them under intelligence surveillance and even tinkers with their cultural life, is good enough for the South to talk of. Never good enough for media reporting too. It’s the extension of the “Sinhala Nittaewo” mindset in this whole South, still living after 28 years, with more Mathews, Jayawardene’s and Dissanayake’s holding this regime together.

How far this political power, nurtured on a crude ‘Nittaewo’ mindset could survive, is nevertheless a gnawing question. Hugh Nevill wrote the Veddahs finally decided to corner the ‘Nittaewo’ in a cave and blocked its entrance for many days with a huge fire. Their children had to live for the future, the Veddahs decided. Somewhere, some time, something tips the scales. Marx called it the subjective factor. In the modern Arab world, it was termed the “Arab Spring.” And then, history is written anew.

Originally published here: Politics & Governance by Kusal Perera - The Sunday Leader

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